My skills as a pastor are strong and varied. I have had experience and training in many forms of pastoral counseling including, individual, family, marriage, grief and group counseling. I see my role in this regard as proactively facilitative. Even in large congregations, I make an effort to know each of my congregants and hear their stories. This usually takes several years. I relish the opportunity to get to know those I serve. I am available and willing to meet with people when they call or when I know there is a need especially around a crisis or end of life. However, as the churches I have served have grown beyond the “pastoral” size, it is necessary and advantageous to create a team of lay care givers to assist the parish minister in this work. Since coming to Pacific Unitarian Church I have been fortunate to work with several assistant ministers on staff who have helped us design and implement a very effective lay pastoral associate team (LPAs). Each LPA goes through a ten hour training and have monthly meetings with me to deal with situations that are difficult. This is some of the most rewarding work we do. In this program, the LPAs not only serve their fellow congregants but grow more deeply in their spiritual understanding of themselves and find greater meaning through their ministry to others.
As the parish minister of mid-size congregations it is simply not possible to meet with people on a proactive basis except in moments of crisis. I rely on my associate colleagues and the LPAs and others to let me know when my presence is needed as well as those members who call me directly. I customarily meet with parishioners for up to two sessions to identify the issues and explore solutions. Since pastoral ministry is so often a form of “triage” it is necessary to refer people out to other care providers if the issues are too deep and complex. Pastoral ministry is not mental health. The concerns of any pastoral caregiver should be primarily spiritual in nature and often are best expressed through “deep listening.” In this sense, any member of the congregation can be a pastor, if they learn to be present and attentive in a time of need.
I am strong believer in small group ministry as a way to build community and provide the pastoral connections with a growing congregation. In each congregation I have served, I helped to establish a small group ministry system which has been modified over the years to provide a sense of community and spiritual growth. Leaders are identified by the staff and then asked to start new groups. A “small group sampler” is held several times a year after services to introduce people to the concept of a covenant group. Groups are then formed based on interest, age, family status with leaders already experienced in this ministry. Groups run for six months and can then disband or re-covenant to run again.
Pastoral care happens in many settings. Sunday morning is a critical time for any minister. It is then that people are most ready to talk. While it is not always possible to engage in deep conversation, it is an important time to set an appointment. Because of this I rarely attend church business meeting on Sundays. I generally like to meet people in my church office with another person present in the building. Occasionally, I will meet people in their homes and I always try to visit people in the hospital. I am constantly aware that people need to share whenever the moment seems right and I must be prepared to listen.
I keep regular office hours and I am available for appointments at other times often during the evening and on weekends. Congregants may phone me at the office, my home or on my mobile in times of emergency.
I have recently been invited to serve on the advisory council of Compassion and Choices (https://www.compassionandchoices.org/what-you-can-do/in-your-state/california/about/). In this role I advocate for death with dignity legislation in California. I have witnessed too much suffering at the end of life to not do all I can to afford people the right to die with dignity.